Pablo Picasso:

A Revolution In Art

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"Painting is stronger than I am. It makes me do what it wishes."-Pablo Picasso (The Twentieth Century: Europe Lives and Works In The Arts.)


Pablo Ruiz Picasso is one of the most well documented and one of the most influential artists of the twentieth century. During his life he created more than 20,000 paintings and sculptures. Through his invention of forms and techniques, his exploration of space, and his experimentation, Picasso was the leader of an artistic revolution that reached not only painters and sculptors, but also authors, composers, and architects.

Picasso grew up during the impressionist and post impressionist eras. Both of these styles focused a great deal on subjects of realist nature. Picasso went along with these styles painting beggars, outcasts, strollers, circus people, and other realist subjects. As he grew older however, he began to experiment to try to avoid flatness and retain a sense of solidity and depth in his work. This approach was different from that of earlier artists who felt that the challenge of painting was to reduce the forms of nature to a flat pattern. As he progressed, Picasso became frustrated with the question of how to build up an image of an object out of simple elements. Paul Cezanne, Picasso's friend and fellow artist, advised Picasso to look at nature in terms of shapes like cones, spheres and cylinders. It was Picasso's literal translation of this advice that led to one of his most influential periods, a period characterized by an exploration of space and form called Cubism.


This painting is entitled Les Demoiselles d' Avignon. It was one of Picasso's first cubist paintings and it marked a turning point in modern art by destroying space, depth, pictorial space and the ideal womanly figure.


Analytical Cubism

Picasso came to realize through his experimentation with form that paintings shouldn't just represent the world exactly as it appears. E.H. Gombrich attempts to explain Picasso's reasoning in The Story Of Art, "Why not be consistent and accept the fact that our real aim is rather to construct something than to copy something? …A violin it does not appear before the eye of our mind as we would see it with our bodily eyes…some of them [the various aspects] stand out so clearly that we feel we can touch them and others are somehow blurred. This medley of images represents more of the real violin than any single snapshot…." Picasso used his first stage of Cubism, analytical Cubism, to create the violin in Still Life Of A Violin.

Analytical Cubism breaks down an object into a set of forms and then rearranges them to represent a three-dimensional image of the whole object. Often times in order to present the reality of forms in space, Picasso would show multiple views of an object simultaneously. This style marked a turning point in modern art because ever since the time of the Renaissance, paintings were shown in one or two point perspectives and everything in that one plane appeared simultaneously with every thing else. Picasso used his analytical cubism to create Les Demoiselles d' avignon (left). The style allowed Picasso to experiment with both form and space because not only did he break down objects into their components, but he also showed different views of an object simultaneously.

At first, Picasso's cubist works were not readily accepted. When Les Demoiselles d' Avignon came out, Picasso's friend and fellow artist, George Braque remarked that it was as if Picasso had been drinking turpentine when he created it. One of Picasso's patrons even remarked that it was as if he was trying to create the forth dimension. When George Braque joined the cubist movement, even his cubist works were rejected by the Salon D'Automne, a famous French gallery, in 1907.

Even the name "cubism", which was given to the new style by a critic amused by the geometric forms, mocked the seriousness and originality of the cubist's works.



Synthetic Cubism

Around 1912 Picasso and his fellow leader in the cubist movement, George Braque, felt that analytical Cubism was becoming too abstract, which was not their intent. Thus, they adopted a new approach called Synthetic Cubism. This new style used stronger color and allowed for more expression. An important aspect of synthetic cubism was the introduction of the collage. In The Twentieth Century Europe: Lives and Works In The Arts, Bridsall, Hitchcock, Willet, and Wilkins summarize Synthetic Cubism; "Instead of breaking down their objects into facets and reconstructing them, the artists started with a set of ready-made fragments - wallpaper, newspaper, and oilcloth - which they built up, or "synthesized," into more concrete images." Picasso actually created the first collage and his revolutionary technique attracted others to do the same. The materials in the collages, which served a double role as representing the whole object and also keeping their original identity, added a unique sense of depth to his work. Synthetic Cubism also allowed for further experimentation with materials and form.

(Picasso, Pablo. Man Riding A Horse. Illus. in Picasso: Painter and Sculptor In Clay.)

This photo of Picasso's Man Riding a Horse shows how Picasso revolutionized sculpting. Instead of starting with soft clay, he started his pieces in fired clay, which allowed him to experiment with form more freely.




Picasso pushed his exploration of form even further in his sculptures. Instead of starting with soft clay as people had been doing for centuries, Picasso began his pieces by using fired clay. This style of rearranging allowed for more experimentation with form and more use of paint. Picasso rearranged old vases to make women and animals, made plates into paintings, and created heads out of pots. Picasso used this rearrangement to create Man Riding A Horse (above, 1950-1951). The arms of the man, for example, used to be the handles of another vase. Sometimes Picasso would even experiment with glazes, slips, and oxides to produce uncontrollable results. Picasso's sculptures were not just limited to clay. He once rearranged a bike seat and handlebars to make a bull's head. Some people even say that Picasso's range of techniques and materials is an art in itself.


Effects on Painters and Sculptors

Although Picasso's work was, at first, not readily accepted,by the first half of the twentieth century, every progressive artist in the world had taken up Cubism and the principles of Picasso's work. The effects of Picasso's art were widespread. Many painters applied the principles of Cubism to their own paintings of traditional subjects. Some groups however, applied Cubism's geometric precision to modern life. One of these groups was the Futurists in Italy. Its founders rejected the past and elevated the beauty of the machine as evident in paintings such as Brooklyn Bridge by Joseph Stella (left below). Fernand Leger, a French painter, began to experiment with pipe-shaped Cubism, which he called "tubism" in such paintings as The City (right below) Other artists like Paul Klee, a German expressionist; Kazimir Malevich, a Russian cubist who formulated suprematism, a style that used shapes to show emotions; Piet Mondrian, a Dutch artist who introduced "neo-plasticism"; and Aleksnadr Archipenko, a Russian sculptor, were all impacted by Cubism.


Stella, Joseph. The Brooklyn Bridge.

info above

Leger, Fernand. The City.

info above


Effects on Other Artists

The effects of Picasso's work were not only limited to other painters and sculptors. The composers Arnold Schoenberg and Igor Stravinsky broke traditional musical forms by using the principles of Cubism. Shchoenberg developed a twelve-tone chromatic scale and Stravinsky elevated atonality, music without a tonal center and poly tonality, a system of using more than seven tones on a keynote. Writer James Joyce explored space-time relations in some of his works. Picasso's space exploration even influenced twentieth century architecture, interior design, and furniture.


Picasso's genius is beyond doubt. He was an explorer of space, an inventor of techniques, and a creator of forms. Picasso truly created a revolution in art by questioning age old techniques of pictorial space and form. The impact of his work was widespread reaching not just other artists but also composers, authors, and architects of the twentieth century.



Links To Picasso Wed Pages:

Picasso's Home Page:

The Online Picasso Project:

Picasso Biography:

Picasso Biography:



Secondary Sources:

"Braque's Cubist Works Rejected By the Salon D'Automne, 1908." Discovering World History. Gale Research Group, 1997: Student Resource Center. Gale Research Group. Online Database. CD2105240023&sidebars…(November 8, 2001)

Bridsall, Virginia Ogen and Hitchcock, H. Wiley and kornhausen, Jincy Willet and Wilkins, David G. The Twentieth Century: Europe Lives and Works In The Arts. Armonk, New York: Sharp Reference, 1997.

Croix, Horst de la and Tansey, Richard G. Art Through the Ages. New York: Harcourt, Brace and World, Inc., 1970.

Gombrich, E.H. The Story Of Art. Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, Inc.,1972.


Janson, W.J. Histroy Of Art: Second Edition. New York: Harry N. Abrams Inc., 1977


McCully, Marilyn. Picasso: Painter and Sculptor in Clay. New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1998.


"Picasso Paints Guernica" Discovering World History. Gale Research 1997. Student Resource Center. Gale Research Group. Online Database.…( November 9, 2001)


"Picasso, Pablo Ruiz." Discovering Biography. Gale Research,1997. Student Resource Center. Gale Research Group. Online Database &docNum=CD2102101457&sidebars=Yes&bConts=255 (November 8, 2001)


"Picasso, Pablo Ruiz." U*X*L Biographies. Gale Research,1999. Student Resource Center. Gale Research Group. Online Database…(November 8, 2001)

Primary Sources:

Leger, Fernand. The City. Photo On January 22, 2002.

Picasso, Pablo. Les Demoiselles d'Avignon. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo on Bliss, Bequest, Lillie P. 1997

Picasso, Pablo. Man Riding A Horse. Illus in Picasso: Painter and Sculptor In Clay. New York: Harrry N. Abrams, Inc., 1998.

Stella, Joseph. The Brooklyn Bridge. Photo On January 22, 2002.